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How Heavy is Too Heavy? Breaking Down Period Flows

It Happened One Night. There Will Be Blood. The Great Escape. How To Train Your Dragon.

What do all these titles have in common? Besides being great films (s/o to thespian dreamboat Daniel Day Lewis) they could be substitute descriptors for the blood that your uterus dispenses each month.

So, on that very visual note (and because you’re probably not comparing underwear aftermath with your girlfriends), there are a few questions we’d like to address. Like, is there such thing as too much blood? And what to do if things start to get a bit Carrie-ed away. (See what we did there?) Head first into the crimson wave we go!

What is ‘Normal’ Anyway?

When it comes down to it, there really isn’t such a thing as a ‘normal’ period. Our vaginas are as different as our hair colors and favorite late-night McDonald’s orders (Filet-O-Fish slathered in mayo? No? Anyone?), and they bleed in all kinds of unique ways.

You and your vag may be as one-of-a-kind as a unicorn who craps fairy dust, but there are signs we can all look out for when our bodies are trying to say, “Yo! Pay attention!”

How Much Blood Should I Have?

If we are getting down to the nitty gritty science-y part of it, the average menstrual flow for an entire period is about 10 to 35 ml. But because we are all birds of different feathers, this can range anywhere from light spotting to about two cups, and many women report bleeding way more. Women who are taller, have had children, or are in perimenopause (=are just about to hit menopause) tend to have heavier flows. The average woman bleeds for about four to six days (and lives to tell, er, complain about, the tale!)

A regular tampon holds about 5 ml of blood, so---I’ll do the math for you---the average period could fully soak anywhere from two to seven tampons or pads. (PSA: This is all hypothetical. Change those tampons every four to eight hours, and pads every three to four hours, unless they’re designed for overnight wear. Better yet, swap all of that for a super cute pair of period-proof panties that hold up to two tampons worth of menstrual blood.

What is ‘Not Normal’?

You should start paying attention when your flow starts to get up to 80 ml. For those of you who don’t have a graduated cylinder between your legs all period long, that’s about 16 completely soaked sanitary products. When you get up around these numbers, and it happens every month it’s called menorrhagia, aka menstrual bleeding that is defined by lots of clots and a heavy flow. Blame hormones like you do for every other annoying thing in life: menorrhagia is caused by high estrogen and low progesterone.

Symptoms of Menorrhagia Include:

  • Bleeding for longer than one week
  • Having to get up at night to change your pad or tampon
  • Having to change your sanitary products every hour or so during the day
  • Passing blood clots for more than one day
  • Experiencing symptoms of anemia (tiredness, shortness of breath, fatigue)
  • Having trouble sticking to a regular schedule because of your flow

Causes of Heavy Bleeding

Like the excuses I make up to not go out on a Friday night, reasons for heavy bleeding can range. Here are a few:

  • Hormone imbalance (cue chocolate and sweatpants)
  • Effects of certain medications (especially ones that interfere with blood clotting)
  • Fibroids (non-cancerous tumors)
  • Polyps (growths on the uterine lining)
  • Your body’s reaction to your IUD (bless that hardworking son of a gun)

Causes can also include more serious issues like complications with pregnancy and, more rarely, cancer.

Before you frantically put your OB/GYN on speed dial, remember that, more often than not, heavy bleeding isn’t a sign of medical issues you need treatment for---it’s just one of the wonders of having a vajay (that and multiple orgasms, amirite?).

Get to know what’s normal for you, and if things change, it’s time to check in with someone. On that note…

So, Do You Need to See a Doctor?

If you notice any signs of pain or are totally freaked by the unusually large amount of blood making it’s way out of your vagina, it’s time to take ask yourself some questions:

  • Has your life gone through any big, recent changes?
  • Have you started any new medications?
  • When was your last period?
  • Have you recently gained or lost weight?
  • Are you more tired than usual?
  • Did it hurt when you fell from heaven?

Major life events (new job, parents getting divorced, you ran into your ex and her new girlfriend is a total babe) can cause stress and make your body feel all kinds of funk-ayyy. Plus, the loss of blood means the loss of iron -- yes, this is the reason it’s impossible to peel yourself off the couch and away from your I-won’t-ever-admit-this-in-public Netflix binge of Girl Meets World (nostalgia is real).

So when should you see a doctor?

Well, we’re no experts over here, but if your body feels out of whack---whether it’s that time of the month or not---it probably doesn’t hurt to give your gyno a buzz and see what’s going on. More than likely you just need a jolt of vitamins, a day of sleep, and your favorite late-night McDonald’s order (but really, nobody else wants in on this Filet-O-Fish?!). But blood tests, ultrasounds, biopsies, and Pap tests can help diagnose you if something is wrong and help get you back to your go-getter self. No matter what, life will Carrie-on, blood sister.

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